Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.01.44

Monica Berti, Fra tirannide e democrazia. Ipparco figlio di Carmo e il destino dei Pisistratidi ad Atene. Fonti e Studi di Storia Antica, 8.   Alessandria:  Edizioni dell'Orso, 2004.  Pp. 232.  ISBN 88-7694-814-7.  €20.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Minna Skafte Jensen, University of Southern Denmark (
Word count: 647 words

The subject of Monica Berti's study is a little-known figure, Hipparchus, son of Charmus. According to Athenaion Politeia 22 he was ostracized two years after the battle of Marathon and was the first person to experience this procedure. He is also briefly mentioned in Harpocration's Lexicon of the Ten Attic Orators, with a reference to the historian Androtion. He may be the same person as an Hipparchus celebrated as kalos on some Attic vases, and mentioned as archon for 496/5 by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Berti wants to establish a picture of him as one of the most important personalities in Athens during the decades between the expulsion of the tyrants and the battle of Marathon. In spite of care and learning the project is unsuccessful.

After preface and introduction, Berti's book has five chapters: 1. Hipparchus' name and his ostraca, 2. Hipparchus' family connection and friendship with Pisistratus, 3. Hipparchus' archonship, 4. Hipparchus' ostracism and 5. Lycurgus and Hipparchus' treason, as well as conclusion, bibliography and various tables and indices.

It is in many ways a pleasant book, which moves in a straightforward way through its various topics, presents the relevant sources in Italian translation, discusses their interpretation and refers to earlier studies in an abundance of notes. The information about Hipparchus' ostracism has been confirmed by archeological finds, and the twelve known ostraca are all depicted, described and discussed. In itself, the idea of sifting through whatever is known about one central personality as an entrance into a crucial, but insufficiently illuminated, phase of Attic history is attractive.

The study is also recommendable for its learning. The bibliography is impressive for its length and precision, and the various arguments are constantly accompanied by comprehensive notes.

However, the book has its oddities. For one thing, the second chapter, which mainly treats various questions in connection with the reign of Pisistratus and his sons, is disproportionately long, more than 100 out of 175 pages of text. Thus we have reached p. 127 before actually concentrating on Hipparchus. Considering that the question of the protagonist's relationship to the tyrants is, of course, an important aspect of his place in Athenian society, this might have been well-founded, but much of the material discussed in the long chapter 2 seems of little relevance to either Hipparchus or the history of Athens during the first decades of its democracy. For instance, much energy is spent on an effort to establish an exact internal chronology for the period of tyranny, a question to which new, convincing answers are not likely to be found.

The handling of the sources seems inadequate. Mostly they are accepted as trustworthy as long as they agree, and there are few attempts at evaluating their different credibility and the relations that may or may not exist among them. When finally on p. 156 Athenaion Politeia is characterized as the only source possessing reliability, a reference to Harpocration nevertheless occurs a few lines afterwards.

Similarly, the notes often simply list references to previous scholars and their views without adopting any clear attitude to their studies, for instance p. 64 n. 223.

The book is carefully produced and almost free of misprints. On p. 172, however, the sense of a passage is disturbed by the mention of "Carmo" for "Timarco".

Berti is both careful and cautious, and often her discussions end up in a statement of despair: the character of the sources prevents a clear conclusion. This does, of course, inspire confidence, but also raises the question whether her renewed examination of this evidence is worth the trouble. After all, she moves in an area studied by scholars such as Schachermeyr, Jacoby and Schreiner. Since her book neither applies thought-provoking new methods nor reaches important new results, its main quality lies in the collection and presentation of the ancient sources and the relevant scholarly works. As such it will prove useful.

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